Arcade Fire – We: Review

With pertinent themes with clever and fantastical instrumentals, Arcade Fire continues to coast with dreary and rhythmic melodies and harmonies over uninteresting songwriting that you almost forget Win Butler is singing, but not Régine Chassagne. It’s constructed with linear focus instrumentally, but when it comes to the way subjects are delivered, your level of attention wanes. It’s disappointing; Arcade Fire has driven on more darkened paths, but their lively shift on Everything Now was a misstep; however, finding that happy medium on We hasn’t offered much of a rewarding presence. There are bursts of tangible tracks that keep your interest afloat but isn’t as rewarding as hearing The Suburbs for the first time. But they stumble on hurdles that divert from the aesthetic that works (Dance-Pop), creating a bridge between some complexions of folk and faltering in the construction.

Arcade fire runs with ideas/themes that speak on aspects of society like our attachment to technology, the “American Dream,” and the effect of the socio-political climate through unique POVs. But it’s muddled with obscurities in the verses that sometimes it feels like they are just singing words without context. It’s evident in the transition in the two-part intro, “The Age of Anxiety,” that establishes how open they will continue to be. On the second one, Win Butler sings: 

“Heaven is so cold

I don’t wanna go

Father in heaven’s sleeping

Somebody delete me

Hardy har-har

Chinese throwing star

Lamborghini Countach

Maserati sports car.”

It establishes this death anxiety, but fears he is too warped into a rabbit hole created by life but feels to build on it emotionally through slightly dronish melodies. It’s inconsistent. They juxtapose intended moods on the livelier dance-pop tracks, and that’s the only contrast between the 1s and 2s. So, when they go into more ballad-centric melodies, it loses that spark, for the most part. There is a smooth transition between “The Lightnings” as Win Butler matches the emotional gravitas, but it isn’t the same with both parts of “End of An Empire” and the first half of the second “Age of Anxiety.” It gets partially attributed to the songwriting, which isn’t as consistently linear like the first of the latter or “Unconditional I (Lookout Kid).” 

They’ve never devoided themselves from exploring beyond a reflection, and going through the black mirror, which adds a dual perspective between the themes and the purported “I.” They’ve done it eloquently in past work, like “Modern Man” on The Suburbs, and parallel, without the “I,” on the eponymous track on Neon Bible. They find ways to blend the two, and it’s the least consistent, especially as it doesn’t leave much of an impact. That impact comes when they liven up the instrumentations, offering a variety of unique constructs to stream with the melodies and sometimes good linear storytelling. It’s the one consistent throughout We. Through this teeter-totter of writing between both lead vocalists, Win Butler and Régine Chassagne, wherein Régine’s vocal performances shine with incredible consistency and sometimes act like a proper duet-foil for Win. It is heard in abundance throughout.

Régine Chassagne, as a performer, is the standout for the band, as she commands some of the best parts, outweighing Win Butler’s consistency in the first half. When the production switches from a low tempo to something more energetic, like in “Age of Anxiety II” and for a minute in “End of Empire IV (Sagittarius A).” Though it isn’t to say Win is all lows, at times coming with a solid stream of performances that stays with you, like the chorus and third verse of “Age of Anxiety I” and in the last 4 of 5 tracks. Within this roller coaster ride, you get their best near the end, especially the drive between “Unconditional I (Lookout Kid)” and “Unconditional II (Race and Religion).” Régine Chassagne shines vibrantly on the latter with infectious melodies and solid songwriting. It gets boasted by the cadence in Peter Gabriel’s backing vocals, which allows you to ride a slight high before the eponymous track, where that high keeps you rolling through a beautiful acoustic ballad.

e has a tiring and slightly modest first half before spearheading into these vibrant melodies and sounds that encapsulate their style blended with dance-pop complexions. It left me disappointed as it seemed they could only go up from their last album, though it slightly did; it wasn’t anything profound. Unfortunately, that stays in the second half, as Arcade Fire leaves you on a high note, albeit not as memorable.

Rating: 5 out of 10.

Billie Eilish – Happier Than Ever: Review

From her auspicious debut to the more grounded and mundane follow-up, Billie has yet to make the kind of impact that exists outside new artist hype. When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? made her presence known, albeit having moments that bore. Unfortunately, it continues on her follow-up album Happier Than Ever. Billie delivers some inspiring work that elevates my thoughts on the others. Unfortunately, others fall into mediocrity as her delivery resembles Kate McKinnon’s parody of Jodie Foster from Silence of The Lambs.

Everyone knows that Billie Eilish has a beautifully strange voice, but it leaves you questioning: why does she continue with the same schtick? She has a range and can create whimsical pop songs with new territorial peaks alongside her brother. For example, “Everything I Wanted” encapsulates the nuances of dance-pop, which rarely works with lower-tempo singers unless the production has glamour. At some point, you begin to make the differences obvious, and unfortunately, that is rarer here than on her last album. Dua Lipa and Charli XCX are perfect examples in which you can see the contrast. Charli has the range, while Dua Lipa commands the stage with presence, poise, and an empowering backing production. Billie isn’t like them, and her path seems to be reminiscent of artists who predominately stick with the motto: if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.

I’ve seen the appeal and have been boasting Billie Eilish’s talents since &Burn, but her growing pains become too apparent. For Billie, it’s evolving past that dark-trap pop singer and giving the world the range her voice can reach. But she has a style focused on emoting relativity, which has been commonly heard in emo-music today. This stems from the post-production work, which lessens the backing vocals and creates a brooding mood. However, there are a few moments where we see Billie glow, as we hear the maturity from albums 1 to 2.

“Oxytocin” is one of these rare instances. These moments transpire when Billie Eilish hops out of her shell, expanding the parameters of the walls that surround her. And this is speaking in regards to her overall sound as she has been vocal about slowly shifting away from singing about her public image. As a result, she shifts away from moody pop sounds to industrial electro-pop. Stepping away from an ASMR approach on Happier Than Ever has lifted some weight off her shoulders as she tries to deliver something different than her last album. And it shows.

But despite elevating to new heights on some of the production and performances, there are few songs where Billie Eilish’s voice gets a boost. “Lost Cause” does so by delivering an awe-inspiring range of vocal inflections. The way she can shift her mood on a song has been an empowering dynamic of her appeal. People feel connectivity and see the teen-pop icon as transcendent as Britney Spears was in the initial rise and domination of teen-pop on the charts. She delivers assuring work, but there is rarely a moment where I become Leonardo Di Caprio Pointing at the TV when I hear something different.

One of these songs is “Billie Bossa Nova.” The name is a bit on the nose, but it delivers. Finneas O’Connell shows his growth as a producer with smooth transitions in styles, which can be hard to do when you’re shifting from a focused electro-pop dud to a beautiful bossa nova record. He has produced predominately in the pop realm, and Bossa Nova is far from pop; however, Billie’s voice fits the characteristics beautifully, and Finneas shows he can do more than core pop songs. In songs like “Therefore I Am” and “my future,” her vocal performances elevate the contrasting side-eye gripe feeling she brings on the former and the soft-self awareness of the latter.

Unfortunately, the few highlights that stand out can’t make up for the slight-bore the rest of the music delivers. You often miss out on solid songs upon a first listen, and Happier Than Ever contains some. The song “GOLDWING,” for example, sees Billie Eilish delivers with an overly soft voice you forget she was singing. It happens on occasion with other songs like “Everybody Dies,” which are as forgettable as your late-night bill after a drunken meal. It doesn’t play off the irony contextually, and it becomes derivative amongst the grouping of songs. 

There is no proper balance on Happier Than Ever. In most cases, I find myself falling asleep to the mundane. Billie Eilish has given enough to keep interests high, especially since her debut with “Ocean Eyes” at 14 years old. In a way, she is giving her fans what they expect. For others, they will hear the objective fluidity in the post-work, which makes that craptacular string arrangement on “I Didn’t Change My Number” sound clean, despite how it comes across. Would I recommend Happier Than Ever? Only If you’re a fan.

Rating: 6.5 out of 10.

Clairo – Sling: Review

It isn’t every day a creator comes out with the consistency to elevate any artist to new levels, further finding something that has yet to be unlocked. Max Martin comes to mind quickly when the music is centered on pop and Jack Antonoff has become that for this age of alternative artists. As he did with artists like St. Vincent, Lana Del Rey, and Lorde, he continues with Clairo on her sophomore album, Sling. Clairo has been quietly making noise in lo-fi/acoustic bedroom pop music, but she has yet take make a splash. Sling is different compared to her debut, Immunity, which felt like this bland array of melancholic-emotional downbeat pop tracks that never felt immersive. Sling shifts into a range of elegant folk and pop instrumentals that continuously captures the attention even when Clairo still finds the remedy with a consistent tone and mood.

Clairo’s vocals always had this rustic authenticity that made her debut, Immunity, somewhat tolerable, despite the music’s production not working to her strengths, which is similar to English artist Birdy. Birdy came onto the public eye with her cover of Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love,” but her foray into artistic and pompous pop didn’t resonate as much as her follow-up. Like her, Clairo goes in that direction as Sling highlights her vocal strengths, matching with the sad lyricism she usually writes. It didn’t leave much of an impression, though her follow-up kept it flowing. A part of it could be that it resonates with a style many female vocalists attempt at some point in their career, and that is a heartbreak album taking influence from Joni Mitchell’s Blue, which always perks interest.

On Immunity, Clairo’s vocal range innately slips into melancholic broadness, which can leave a track sounding soulless and tiring. But Jack Antonoff shifts our perception, allowing her voice to capture the emotional gravitas that was sometimes lacking on her debut. Though it isn’t to say this new project is exponentially better than it, the improvement shows in terms of effectiveness. Previously you’d be able to grasp her songwriting strength, but the production never kept you engaged 100%. It’s the complete opposite on Sling, which doesn’t have latent production. It is a continuous testament toward Jack’s genius as a producer, as it matches fittingly with Clairo’s vocals and more so the lyrical content of her music.

Sling is an amalgamation of her life since the release of her debut, amongst the influence that persisted in the making of, i.e. at an estate on top of Mount Tahoe in upstate New York. The atmosphere around her has given us a new direction, sonically, that has Jack Antonoff and Clairo working together to create these beautiful rustic sounds. As Clairo takes a step forward a digs into a variety of themes, like the persistent pressure that goes behind societal norms with motherhood and varying aspects of a relationship. The latter of these can become a bit redundant, as the themes overlap you get lost with certain tracks sounding too similar. Fortunately, this is a minimal deterrent midway, which almost causes a standout track, “Blouse,” to be part of the mix. 

“Blouse” has two bookends, “Zinnias” and “Wade,” bogged by typical Clairo conventions. “Blouse” is a beautiful orchestration that displays nuance toward an apparent stigma that still lives today in the world of social dating apps. Or simply put, we’ve all been conflicted within a relationship about whether or not this person is with you for your looks, opposed to your core. She persists in displaying this within the confines of her music, usually succeeding with other tracks like “Amoeba,” which is a continuation in tone and theme to the opening track “Bambi,” except marginally better as the production is more refined and apparent.  

Sling shows Clairo discovering herself as an artist, branching into a world that makes sense with her low barring vocals and evoking the emotional gravitas that was lacking. Clairo finds new traction, even though it doesn’t keep you completely engaged all the way through. As much as I enjoyed this follow-up, Clairo still has ways to go as an artist, and fortunately, with her youth, there is nowhere to go but up.

Rating: 7 out of 10.